Be Proactive with Industry Leaders

“No matter what topic you want to be known for, you should be proactive with industry leaders,” Aaron said. “You need to mingle with other influencers who can help you along the way. The best approach is to leave your digital footprint everywhere. Do this by liking other people’s photos, commenting on blog posts, helping others out, retweeting, creating guest content on leading blogs, and participating in Twitter chats, to name a few ideas.”


from “Known” by Mark Schaefer


An Example of Influencer Marketing


Groove, a company that provides help desk software, is a perfect example of executing an influencer strategy with precision. They were a start-up company with literally no audience— and no time to build an audience—so they relied on borrowing the audiences of others. The result? 5,000 new blog subscribers in five weeks. Here’s how they did it:


  1. Build the influencer list. The company carefully considered which potential influencers connected to their target audience (web start-ups and small businesses) and which of those leaders would be able to get true value from their content and service. This is a critical step. Most influencers are deluged with spammy requests for their help, so doing careful research up front gives you the best shot at success.


  1. Forge relationships. Influencers may hold the keys to the audience kingdom, but simply making a cold pitch doesn’t work. Groove embarked on a plan to use the social networks to connect with them and move beyond the relational weak link. Their plan included tweets, blog comments, blog post shares, and emails. Here are other ways to engage with influencers:
  • Ask for a quote you’ll use in your article.
  • Re-tweet them consistently.
  • Provide them with a recommendation on LinkedIn.
  • Interview them for a video or podcast.
  • Ask them for feedback on an idea.
  • Link to something they wrote about (they will generally see this “pingback”).


  1. The Ask (part 1). By this time, the people from Groove were on the radar of their target influencers and it was time to make a move. But they didn’t ask for a favor. They asked for help—a subtle yet important difference. Most people have a hard time saying “no” to an honest request for help. This plea included a link to their site, a request for feedback, and emphasis on potential mutual benefits. Using this technique, Groove earned an 83 percent positive response rate from the influencers. “Help” is a more benign ask, and more importantly, it helped Groove start real back-and-forth conversations with industry experts.


  1. The Ask (part 2). Now that the company was ready to launch their blog, they needed a push from their new influencer friends. Since this group had been involved in providing feedback to the Groove team, they had a built-in stake in the company’s success. Groove sent these new advocates a link to the first blog post with a request for help promoting it.


  1. Results! Not only did most influencers promote the post, but almost all of them also commented on the new blog. This level of response provided proof to new visitors that the blog (and company) had traction. In 24 hours Groove had acquired 1,000 blog subscribers, and by following up with consistent, high-quality content, they attracted more than 5,000 subscribers and 535 trial sign-ups through five weeks of blogging efforts.


In this case, Groove methodically built relationships with influencers that led to measurable success. But there was another force at work here, too—the powerful, magnetic attraction of involving key audience members in your content creation and transmission.


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer


Top Shelf Books

For those who are keeping score at home, these are the people who take up the most space on the top shelf in my hallway.

A Belgian priest named Louis Evely published a book in the sixties called That Man Is You, a book given to me to read as part of a discipleship class when I was in high school. Whatever influence Father Evely had on my spiritual journey, his most powerful influence on me came from the blank-verse style he used to write the book. I do not write in that form anymore, but the blank verse taught me how to take sentences and paragraphs apart, how to break them into separate pieces and see how they fit together to make writing that can be heard when someone reads the page.

Some of Frederick Buechner’s books are on the shelf. Now and Then, one of the deeply moving autobiographical books he has written, taught me a seminal truth. “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is,” he writes. “In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it.” For better or for worse, I have spent a lifetime doing that, and doing so on paper in the hope that others might come to listen to their lives as well.

Three by Annie Dillard—The Writing Life, An American Childhood, and Teaching a Stone to Talk—taught me to write as directly as I can, though I do not always live up to the challenge. She taught me to connect one story to the next until a whole comes forth.

Letters to a Young Poet is there, a tiny volume containing half the correspondence between the early-twentieth-century Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and a poet-to-be. The latter kept the letters from the great man, not the other way round, and those letters later found their way into publication. Whenever I want to turn in my pen and my poetic license, I read Rilke’s letters, get a good night’s sleep, and get up in the morning and go back to scribbling.

John Le Carré and Graham Greene are two legendary British novelists. Many people know the former because of the fictional spymaster George Smiley, a character portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness on PBS. Mr. Greene’s work runs from crime to intrigue to war to satire. I started out reading both of these writers as “entertainments,” Mr. Greene’s term, and finally came to realize they were both teaching me to look for light in the midst of the darkness that seems all around us.

My journey in the direction of learning to pray eventually led me to Thomas Merton. I do not go anywhere without a copy of Thoughts in Solitude. Sometimes kindly picking me up when I am discouraged, sometimes gently reminding me that this work is not life and death, he always reminds me that I am only making sentences here. Not life and death by any stretch.

Darkness Visible, the slim book written by William Styron about his struggles with depression helped save my life. I first read it when I was in a psychiatric ward. I recommend the book to writers because so many of us struggle with this particular disease whether or not we know it, admit it, or deal with it. Styron helped me do all three. And with great power he taught me that if you are going to write a memoir, it is only right to tell the whole truth and nothing but.

Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War began its life as an assignment to write a short popular history of the war. Over twenty years it became his life’s work and thousands of pages long. He takes an old story with an ending we already know and retells it so compellingly that we are deeply engaged in the story again. Not a bad model for anyone who writes about religion from time to time as I do, writing based on a Story most of my readers know by heart.

Doris Grumbach’s memoirs teach me to pay more attention to the daily in my life, attention to the seemingly inconsequential, attention to which things actually receive my time and my energy and my art.

The twenty-one novels Patrick O’Brian wrote about the Napoleonic War adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, caught my eye and ear a few years ago. About the fourth time through them, I realized that even though the Aubrey novels had been categorized as adventure, they were really books about a friendship between two men. I read them every year now. If I cannot learn to be a better writer, I hope to learn to be a better friend.


from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson


When to Self-Publish


Today’s guest article is from Chris Ferebee of The Christopher Ferebee Agency.


I’m often asked by both would be and published authors, if and when to consider self-publishing. For those unpublished, the question often comes from the desire to be published as quickly as possible and frustration with trying to break into the industry. Both are often asking because they’ve read of significant success coming to self-published authors and wondering whether they even need traditional publishers anymore. As a literary agent, I earn a living representing successful authors to commercial publishers, but I absolutely believe there is a place for self-publishing. However, whether successfully published or looking to publish for the first time, there a few considerations that apply across the board.



Most publishers are looking more and more to the author to help sell their book. Publishers are having a harder time than ever successfully breaking out new authors. However, they can absolutely help amplify an existing audience. When you self-publish, there’s no amplification. You want to know how big your “platform” is? Self-publish. Self-publishing may be a shortcut to selling your content, but there is no shortcut to building a following and an audience for your work. Self-publishing will expose how successful you’ve been at this faster than anything else. 



When you publish with a commercial publisher, your book is generally available anywhere books are sold. When you self-publish, you are typically locked into a specific ecosystem. For example, to sell your book electronically through Amazon, you have to agree to exclusively sell your book on Amazon. Most people don’t consider that a big deal because Amazon controls 65% of the electronic book market. But only 19.5% of all books sold in the US are Amazon Kindle titles. In actuality, you’re tapping into a small segment of the overall book market. If you self-publish into a different ecosystem, you’re reaching an even smaller segment. All the more reason you need to have a robust following for your work to be successful.



A lot of authors will decide to sell their book directly from their own website to cut out the middle man and retain as much of their revenue as possible. But this means you’ll have to figure out how to deliver your book in the format your audience wants to read it in. Does you audience read on a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad? Do they know what specific file format each device uses and how to load that file onto their device once they’ve downloaded it from you? What if your audience wants your book in a physical format? Do you have the means of producing, warehousing and fufilling physical book sales? When you become a direct seller, you have to take all of these things into consideration.


In short, there’s no easy street to publishing, self or otherwise.  But if you decide to take the plunge, there can be significant benefits. For a published author, it offers you the ability to offer your audience something to tide them over between commercial releases. It can be an opportunity to generate revenue off of valuable content that makes sense for self-publishing, but that wouldn’t make sense for a commercial publisher to consider. It can allow you to bring a resource to market to capitalize on a trend significantly faster than most commercial publishers will be able to. It can be a valuable tool used to gain fans and followers and build your platform. For a self-published author, when done successfully it can help gain the attention of commercial publishers and prove that you do, in fact, have a loyal following willing to engage with your content. For anyone, it can be an opportunity to try your hand at content that doesn’t necessarily fit your “brand,” but allows you to introduce your audience to some of your other interests and creative endeavors.


As a few examples, here are some books my commercially published clients have released as self-published works for many of the reasons above: 


Charles Martin – River Road: A collection of short stories from Charles’ early writing days. 

Timothy Willard – Shine So Bright: A beautiful children’s Christmas story, successfully funded on Kickstarter and now available for sale. 

Margaret Feinberg – Live Loved: An adult coloring book encouraging scripture memorization, which has since been contracted and published by Bethany House. 

Rob Bell – Millones Cajones: A fun and surprising novel about a motivational speaker that suffers a crises of identity.



From Weak Links to Strong Ones

Here are five tips to transform your weak relational links into strong ones through networking:


  1. Keep a list of your most active audience members, by city. When you visit a city for pleasure or business, pull out your list and invite your audience members for coffee.
  2. Make time each month for a Skype call to get to know at least one person from your audience.
  3. Interview somebody from your audience for your blog, podcast, or video. Use that interaction as an excuse to build a closer relationship.
  4. Start a chain reaction of reciprocity by going out of your way to send a card or personal note to those who are sharing your content and supporting you.
  5. Make yourself available. When I’m on a long car ride, I tweet out that I’m available for a phone call to keep me company along the way. If someone responds, I send a private message with my phone number. This has created some of the most amazing friendships!


from “Known” by Mark Schaefer


Writing and Publishing While Black


Dr. Valerie R. Landfair

Founder and President of Firstfruit Ministries, Inc.


One cannot escape the ever-increasing articles, videos, and Twitter posts that highlight the racism faced by people of color. These daily experiences of striving to survive and thrive in a world that is openly hostile to groups of people because of the pigmentation of their skins are exhausting. There are entrenched and systemic structures in the United States that exists to specifically maintain white privilege at all costs. Policies and laws are established to maintain the status quo that ‘white’ is ‘right.’


Thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the plethora of video clips of European American harassment of African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American people are coming to light. The documented harassment videos document the dangers of walking, talking, sleeping, waiting, eating, writing, driving, playing, and merely living while black, educational attainment, socio-economic status, or even place of residence. The stories of European-Americans calling 911 to keep black bodies “in line” and to “teach them a lesson” are all too familiar now. For years similar stories have been passed down by family legacy as the warning to keep our loved ones safe; now they are placed across social media and mainstream, media on an almost daily basis.


Racism is woven into the fiber of the core of what it is to be an American. Given this reality, I wonder why I was surprised when I encountered these injustices in writing and publishing while black. My graduate program was funded by my staggering student loan debt. I actively pursued grants and scholarships but received the standard rejection form letters over and over again. In the accumulation of this debt, I was determined to have a finished dissertation that captured my voice and that of my community.  I wanted others to hear the stories of my family, ancestors, churches, and loved ones. I wanted to share the joys and sorrows of a community of people who often feel powerless and invisible. I was committed and determined to write from an African-American female perspective and that I would be intentional to engage African and African American scholars.


Let’s be clear, I had plenty of dialogue partners that were of European descents who left their contribution in each of my chapters; however, my bibliography was a roll call for scholars of color. I wanted to pen some of the voiceless laments from the injustices of black, brown, red, and yellow bodies in the United States–the marginalized communities that often are subjected to racial profiling and discrimination.


So, what might writing and publishing while black look like in America? Well, it starts with the expectation that authors of color must have a high representation of European authors as their sources. Scholarly publications for the sable race must engage the European gatekeepers of their various disciplines in order to be seen as legitimate. I was instructed to include, and was given the names of, several European authors pending final approval of my dissertation publication. I was open to the fact that pending the approval of each chapter I needed to make revisions and to include a body of work to flush out my argument, to confirm my thesis or a critical piece of research. However, I was instructed that in order for my dissertation to have credence—legitimacy, I needed specific names in my bibliography. I had African, African American, Asian American, and Latina/o scholars from the various disciplines within the academy that the list of European scholars represented, but the approval of my dissertation was predicated on my engagement of the gatekeepers – European males and females.


The policing of my intellectual life, the censuring of choice of dialogue partners, and restrictions placed on my construction of a meaningful bibliography highlights the reproduction of whiteness embedded in the processes of the academy.  This is racism disguised as “being scholarly.”  This is what I face within the academy.


I own countless books written and published by European and European-American authors and I would hazard that the majority of names listed in their bibliography are not from a diverse and inclusive body of work. I own a nice sampling of books written and published by European authors who are ‘woke’ enough to include scholars from the margin; however, on close readings of these articles and books, the reader will discover that their work “lists” but does not seriously engaged these scholars of color in their research. The engagement of their lived experiences, cultural location, scholarly knowledge, and expertise is absent.


I find myself looking for the ‘writers while black’ in the footnote and endnote sections. However, I do acknowledge the European feminists who have African American feminist and womanist scholars included among there sources cited. I celebrate European females and males who are allies with the voices from the margin, however, my spirit is grieved that, in the final analysis their preferred dialogue partners are dead European males.  They leave sisters and brothers of color out of the real constructive conversations.


In a recent discussion with one of my favorite European professors, I encouraged him to intentionally engage voices from the margin in his upcoming book. He said, “Valerie, I do not look at race during my research, my focus is on finding good scholarship.” That reply is the foundation of European privilege within writing and publishing in America. The gatekeepers in the academy are not brown, black, red, and yellow bodies. It is so ironic to me that even regarding African scholarship, the gatekeepers are European males!


It’s time we fully interrogate these practices that reinforce racist standards and that continue to push scholars of color to the margins. I wonder


  • How many dissertations were approved pending the inclusion of voices from the margin?
  • How many European feminists were told by their publishers that they must have a robust engagement of African American feminist and womanist writers?
  • What would happen if the editors of the various academic journals would mandate that at a minimum 25% of their authors must be a person of color?
  • Can I write a “scholarly” piece using ONLY African, African American, Asian

American, Native American, Middle Eastern American, and Latina/o scholars?


So as social media rallies to call out the “Barbeque Beckys” and “Permit Pattys” of the world, let us not forget our more highly educated colleagues who police scholars of color with arcane standards and racists assumptions about what is and is not considered to be respectable sources. Writing and publishing while black is a thing and it is just as exhausting!

The Lamp Stays Lit

My father seemed to have a knack for stumbling onto books by new writers, new voices. As his own family grew, his study was converted into a bedroom for me. His book collection stayed put, and I would read the books he brought home by the light of a little lamp on the bookshelves beside my bed. I rarely turned off the lamp even when I was about to fall asleep.

I still keep a small lamp lit in the central hallway of the little house where I live. It sits on the top of the shelves my grandfather built, shelves that are crammed three deep with books. But the light of the lamp illuminates a single row of books held in place between two triangular marble bookends. The row contains a selection of my favorite books by my favorite writers, some of which are from my father’s collection. The lamp stays lit all day and all night.


from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson


The 3 Core Elements of Personal Branding


Everything you say online—and everything you don’t say—contributes to the story about you that plays in people’s heads. While everyone has a personal brand, not everybody has a Heroic Brand that can put content sharing on auto-pilot. And Chris Brogan has a Heroic Brand. Here’s the connection between his powerful online persona and content ignition, in his own words:

“Some people share content just because they believe in you and what you stand for. I believe there are three core elements of personal branding, at least for me, and they are very intertwined and related. “First, I’m exactly who I am no matter if you talk with me online, offline, in the lobby of a hotel, or before/during/after my time on stage. I think that an integrated (and true to life) persona is vital. People can no longer get away with being someone they’re not. It just doesn’t work. At least not for long.

“Second, I believe that connecting with others and serving them is one of the most important parts of personal branding. That’s a mistake most people make. Your brand isn’t exactly about you. It’s about how others experience you. So I work hard to connect, to respond, to be available, and to show people I’m just like them for the most part.

“Finally, personal branding and connecting with people is about making information portable enough that others can make it their own. I say two or three things over and over: Give your ideas handles (meaning, make it easy for others to take the ideas with them). Everything I do is steal-enabled (as much as I dislike plagiarism, I love when people take my ideas and run with them—with a little credit). Brevity and simplicity are gold (most often, people try to convolute their ideas to make them seem more important than they are). To be simple is to be more open and honest.”


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer 

Religious Books

 – by Frederick Buechner


There are poetry books and poetic books—the first a book with poems in it, the second a book that may or may not have poems in it, but that is in some sense a poem itself.

In much the same way there are religion books and religious books. A religion book is a book with religion in it in the everyday sense of religious ideas, symbols, attitudes, and—if it takes the form of fiction—with characters and settings that have overfly religious associations and implications. There are good religion books like The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, and there are miserable ones like most of what is called “Christian” fiction.

A religious book may not have any religion as such in it at all, but to read it is in some measure to experience firsthand what a religion book can only tell about. A religion book is a canvas. A religious book is a transparency. With a religious book it is less what we see in it than what we see through it that matters. John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany would be an example. Huckleberry Finn would be another.

Writers of religious books tend to achieve most when they are least conscious of doing so. The attempt to be religious is as doomed as the attempt to be poetic. Thus in the writing, as in the reading, a religious book is an act of grace—no less rare, no less precious, no less improbable.


Honoring Your Passion to Write


By Sarah Arthur

Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a published writer. Or maybe you enjoyed writing at some point in your life and would like to pick it up again, just for fun, because it delights you. The act of writing is a worthy activity, even if it’s just a hobby for now. Here are some ways to honor your passion:

  • Set aside time daily, weekly, or monthly just for writing. I get together monthly with a friend for dinner and a “writing date.” When we’re done eating we open our laptops and work on our fiction projects, pausing occasionally to chat or get another chai. The accountability to another person means that I will show up and write fiction at least once a month.
  • If you share a family computer, consider getting a designated computer/laptop just for you.
  • Ask for writing resources (software, setting up a writing desk/office, magazine subscriptions, attending a conference,) for Christmas, birthdays, etc.; or save up money. Yes, words are cheap, and writing can be as simple as a paper and pencil. But other people spend piles of cash on their hobbies–golfing, anyone?–so don’t feel guilty about it. This is important to you.
  • BACK UP YOUR WORK!!! You never realize how vital your writing projects are to your soul until you lose one or more of them. I use a combination of Google Drive, Dropbox, and an external hard-drive.
  • Join a writing group, locally or online. You can hunt around websites such as Writer’s Digest, which has discussion forums and online communities.

If/when you’re ready to take the next step to freelance or publish your work:

  • Get a professional-sounding email address. You want publishers to take you seriously.
  • Create a simple but tasteful and professional blog/website. You want the world to be able to find you easily by a simple internet search. Keep the information on your site current, and post periodically to show that the writing life is important to you.
  • Research the publishers/publications that interest you. When you read a book you like, notice who publishes it and then go to that publisher’s website and see what kinds of resources they produce. Check out the annual Writer’s Market Guide for your genre–your local library will likely have a copy.
  • Join LinkedIn or some other professional network. This is not the same as Facebook, in which you connect with just anyone. Limit yourself to writing and publishing networks, plus whatever area is your specialty (for me it’s youth ministry; for you it might be quilting or radiology). I’m a member of LinkedIn as well as the Redbud Writers Guild.
  • Make business cards. You can find some really good deals on VistaPrint, or check with a local graphic designer.
  • Learn how to craft excellent pitches and proposals. Author and publishing coach Margot Starbuck includes some great resources on her blog, or you can check with a guild in your genre. NOTE: Someone asked me if you have to have a completed manuscript in order to pitch to agents and/or editors, and the answer is “It depends.” If you’re pitching a novel, it should be finished: they need to see that you can deliver. But if it’s nonfiction, you can pitch a title, description, synopsis, and 1-2 sample chapters. Always include a bio with your credentials as a writer or as someone who knows the topic well.
  • Attend a writer’s conference where you can meet agents and publishers. I’ve suggested a few below. Be sure to have all of the above things in place before you walk through the doors of the conference center: this shows that you are serious.
  • Getting published doesn’t just happen—you won’t be “discovered.” You have to put yourself out there but without being totally obnoxious.

Writing & Publishing Resources:


Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of a dozen books on the intersection of faith and great literature, including the celebrated A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time (Zondervan/ HarperCollins, Aug 7, 2018). With insights into Madeleine’s spiritual journey as well as interviews with her friends, family, colleagues, and influential fans, what better way to celebrate what would’ve been Madeleine’s 100th birthday in 2018?


Also, don’t miss the latest on Sarah’s book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (co-authored with Erin Wasinger; Brazos Press, 2017), which traces two families’ year-long experiment of translating downwardly-mobile spiritual practices (such as hospitality to the struggling, simplicity, social justice) into their suburban context. Listen to the Small Things podcast, read our fantabulous blog, & more here.

Check out Sarah’s latest musings, find updates about her writing and speaking, read excerpts and reviews of her books, and purchase signed copies of her resources for both individual and group reading.

Get in touch!